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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Fish That Roars?

Well not really, but the Lionfish is causing quite a roar among fishermen and other environmentalists with some comparing the lionfish invasion of the southeast US coast to the Asian carp invasion plaguing the Mississippi River system.

Lionfish are native to the western Pacific Ocean and range from Japan, Korea and south to Australia.  These voracious predators have found their way into the warm waters from the Carolinas to Florida and are causing concern as they prey on juvenile native fish like grouper and snapper.  Not only are they eating machines, disrupting the natural ecology of the reefs they invade, but they are poisonous having venomous needle-like fins that deliver a painful sting that can cause nausea and breathing difficulty. Rarely fatal, the sting does present a health and safety threat to fishermen, divers and swimmers.

One novel control mechanism has been the fishing derbies that are held in Florida where the fish have established a stronghold.  The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which much of is off limits to fishing for other species, has been the site of one of these derbies where over 650 lionfish were captured by specially licensed divers and served as part of the menu at the evening banquet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched an Eat Lionfish Campaign aimed at getting people to fish for, remove and eat these invasives as a means of controlling their spread and growth.  Some restaurants have started adding them to their menu with diners comparing the delicately flavored fish to grouper or snapper.  Female lionfish can lay over 2 million eggs a year which means stopping their spread is going to take a big appetite. Up and down the east coast the battle cry is "Kill It and Grill It!"

Lionfish are believed to have found their way to the US via the aquarium trade where they may have accidentally found their way into US water following hurricanes in the 1980's and 90's.